How to become an administrator in higher education
June 7, 2012 10:41 PM   Subscribe

How does one become an administrator in higher education

The Girlfriend is currently in a master's program in the humanities at a prestigious American university, and looking to eventually complete a doctorate program.

How does one go from that position to become an administrator in higher education.
posted by Query to Education (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
By an administrator, I assume you mean something like a dean or higher ranking position at a univeristy, not necessrily in her field (like Dean of Arts & Sciences, Vice President, etc). You still need to distinguish yourself in your field and, at the same time, become involved in the runnings of your specific department. Chair is the obvious stepping stone, but you don't become Chair early in your career. The Chair often has a committee to help direct the department's progress & each university has several projects and committees that always need faculty members. I would say that there is no specific path. A large part depends on how politically inclined your girlfriend is, and how much she is willing to put in time to administrative projects that have no direct bearing on her specific interest and may not pay off in the end. If she is interested in eventually holding a specific position, I would suggest she meet with the person currently holding that position at her university or others, and ask for advice.
posted by katemcd at 11:28 PM on June 7, 2012

Soul atrophy.

But seriously - which kind of administrator? It doesn't sound to me like you mean a Dean or equivalent; do you mean an academic office manager, teaching support person, estates and facilities manager, HR, IT, student liaison officer, scholarship administrator, outreach person, development officer, alumni relations, catering, legal affairs, environmental compliance? They're huge organisations with as many administrative roles as you'd find in an equivalent-sized corporation - and probably more.
posted by cromagnon at 1:16 AM on June 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

I work in Higher Ed right now on the Student Affairs side. Before we can answer this we need to know what type if admin position she is looking for. The faculty side is a different path than the student affairs side. Give us more clarification (also, what country?) so we don't give bad info.
posted by MultiFaceted at 2:22 AM on June 8, 2012

Ok...I see she is in school in the US, but is that where she wants to work?
posted by MultiFaceted at 2:23 AM on June 8, 2012

Nthing the request for more info on her desired administrative field, which will help us provide better advice. In general, though, assuming it's not academic administration, which is its own Rubik's Cube, the process is like many others: Network; go on information interviews; and find as many opportunities as possible to get experience in the field you want to be in, even if it's an internship outside of higher ed.

I'm not sure what cromagnon means, but as a (nonacademic) higher ed administrator, I find my work fulfilling, creative, and filled with good, smart people. Good luck to your girlfriend.
posted by shallowcenter at 3:33 AM on June 8, 2012

Committees. Task Forces. Student Government. As an academic, spend some some getting to know some administrators and figure out -- with specificity -- what they do. Being involved with your school in ways beyond working on your projects in your department.
posted by GPF at 4:23 AM on June 8, 2012

There are maybe two ways to get into this area. First, there's the actual Higher Education Administration degree or field, such as educational leadership and policy analysis, educational policy studies and the like. That's generally a graduate specialty. That is not by any means a guarantee of a job in that field, but if she's interested, she might consider it.

The second is to get a terminal degree, of any sort, and work her way up using that. This is particularly useful in the social sciences or student services. An assistant dean and program head that I know, for example, has a PhD in soil science, but he works with liberal arts undergrads from minority backgrounds. One way to start doing this kind of thing is to get a graduate assistantship in this area -- advising, etc. That's how my ex did it.

One of the best ways to figure out what she might need is to go on job sites and look for the kinds of jobs that look like the ones she wants to get down the road. Then look at the kinds of qualifications they want.

Most departmental administrators come up through being a professor. However, the "terminal degree" type of jobs are often just looking for someone they know has been through the process and knows how to play the game.
posted by Madamina at 8:19 AM on June 8, 2012

As others have said, she should keep in mind her end goal. If her end goal is a deanship, presidency, department chairship, academic center directors, or other position where having a terminal academic degree is necessary, then she should absolutely go the route katemcd recommends. She will be able to rise farther and have a much greater deal of clout if she has the academic background to back it up. Be aware that those who start out as faculty and then move into administration can be viewed as "traitors" by faculty.

If she's interested in student affairs, student support or all the positions that cromagnon describes, then a doctorate may be useful in getting her the clout she will need, but not essential. To get those jobs, she should...apply for them. But she shouldn't get a doctorate in the humanities just to get one of these types of positions--it won't help, and may possibly render her overqualified.

Right now, she should work as a departmental assistant, in administrative office, or something where she has a chance to see how the sausage gets made from a perspective other than the student's typical view. Get to know all the competing forces in a major university: student success, professors' research and teaching needs, groundskeeping, union rules, undergraduate academics, graduate academics, residence life, publishing, etc.
posted by Liesl at 9:01 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I currently work at one of the top public universities in the country. Even though my job as an academic coordinator is within the financial aid department, my job brings me in regular contact with administrators from Student Affairs, Admissions, Academic Advising, the Provost's and Chancellor's office, etc.

I work daily with people who aspire to the same goal: working in Higher Education Administration. I have intimate and thorough knowledge of this career path.

Here are the most important details: though, keep in mind each university environment is unique, opinions differ, and there are more details, complexities, and nuances than could ever be addressed adequately, here.

1) This is an absolutely attainable goal, though you must be prepared to earn a Master's degree, if not a PhD (This depends on the university, the type of administrative work you wish to do, and your career goals).

2) You must pick an specific career path and obtain the needed degrees/education/training and the necessary work experience. For example, if you want to work in Student Affairs, there are Master's programs you can pursue. The same goes for Admissions, however, there are other options, and not all graduate schools offer such specialized programs.

There are Master's and PhD level programs in Higher Education Administration, some of which are focused on, and thus aptly named, Higher Education Leadership, or something similar. These are more often Master's level programs.

You can get a Master's or PhD in Education, many or most of which have specific "tracks" for Higher Ed.

3) This is hinted at in number two, but you MUST get an entry-level job in an administrative position at the community college or university level. If you ultimately want to work at a four-year university, then get a job at one, if you can. If you want to get a job at a major public, four-year: get a job at one--in administration.

This can sometimes be done with a Bachelor's degree, but it is harder, fewer opportunities exist, and you will have to get a Master's anyway to move in within (or even among) universities.

4) You have to find an area you are passionate about, then work in that area (or a similar one) to accumulate work experience so you qualify for more advanced positions. You do not become the Dean of Admissions (at least under normal circumstances) until you have worked in enough Admissions offices, at enough different positions to understand how to be an effective Admissions Officer.

5) Get a mentor (or two or three) who work in the kind of job you would like to have. Find out what types of degree(s) they have, what the focus of their academic study/research was, where they went to school, what positions they held before their current one, etc.

Specifically for your partner, I recommend the following:

Since she is in a Master's program already, it is likely not be one tailored to Higher Ed Admin--otherwise, I doubt you would have need to post this question.

That said, she should consider getting another Master's that does focus on this area, or look to get an EdD (basically a PhD in the field of Education). She should choose a school and program that will allow her to conduct research/complete a dissertation in a subject area that will make her competitive in whatever area of administration she wishes to work. Advanced degrees, which require a thesis (Master's) or dissertation (PhD) to be developed and written with the aim of "contributing new knowledge" to a specific field, and this counts directly as work experience.

If you successfully defend a dissertation on "Improving Undergraduate Retention and Graduation Rates of Minority Males at Public Four-Year Research Universities, with a Special Focus on Latino Populations" you will be well-qualified for entry-level positions in Diversity offices, Academic Advising, Retention and Graduation etc.

Since she is currently in a Higher Education environment, she is at an advantage: she has access to all sorts of Higher Ed administrators, many with open door policies.

She should set up an appointment with a Professor, Faculty member, or Administrator whom she has a connection with and express her interest in working in Higher Ed. They can give advice and helpful information, and can even make introductions and set up meetings with people in positions similar to the ones she wants to explore. Any level of Dean, Provost, or Director should be willing to give friendly advice; they have nothing really to lose--their careers are relatively secure, and it seems unreasonable that they should see your partner as unwanted competition--indeed they have a lot to gain: few people have successful careers in Higher Ed Administration who are not passionate about what they do, think it is a great and fulfilling career choice, and who believe in purpose and value of Higher Ed institutions and want to ensure those institutions have a bright future. The best, if not only, way to do this is to cultivate passionate young professionals who have a desire to work in Higher Ed and, eventually, take over their positions once they decide to retire.

I know no fewer than two people in advanced administrative positions, in every major area of my university, that I could get to meet (possibly over lunch, even) someone interested in a career like theirs. This is in no way because I'm special in any way; it has everything to do with how special an environment Higher Ed is to work.

Find a successful person; show them your passion, dedication, ability, and appreciation; and follow their advice--do this, and you should be well on your way.

Also, here's an insider secret: Upper-level university leadership is all about a commitment to diversity; well-qualified (read: relevant degrees), impressive (read: has previous experience work experience, has distinguished their self as a successful leader, and has excellent letters of reference), and diverse (read: anyone who can bring a diverse insight or perspective to this field of Higher Ed Admin; some examples: (in no particular order, and by no means exhaustive) women, minorities, First-Generation, Low-Income, degree in a STEM field (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), former military/service member, LGBT, Bilingual, and the list really does go on.

The higher the position, the more well-qualified, impressive, and diverse you need to be.

One last thing in case anyone is worried about the implications of the emphasis of developing a diverse workforce in Higher Ed: acquired diversity--that is, life/work/cultural experience--is a fully appreciated form of diversity, and not belonging to one of the above categories will in no way prevent someone interested in a career in Higher Ed from being successful at that goal. Thinking the opposite, however, most likely will.

Good luck! Find a mentor!
posted by spladoodlekeint at 5:07 PM on June 12, 2012

« Older It's now or never...I think   |   best way to migrate back into database work Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.